By Emily Golden
When I was a kid I didn’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It didn’t make any sense. I was an enthusiastic peanut butter fan, and I frequently ate jelly on toast and scones, but there was something about the two flavors that hit me wrong when I tried to combine them. It was like having two delicious, diverse flavors in my mouth at once took something valuable away from each.
Playwriting for me started out much the same way.
As a kid I adored the theatre. I acted from a very young age and I was constantly going to see plays. There was just something so captivating about seeing these people living out their lives on the stage right in front of me. As I got older I began to pursue my own theatrical goals more seriously, and started to consider acting as a profession.
At the same time I was an avid writer. I used to sit in front of our old off-beige Macintosh (the kind that still had a floppy disc drive and no internet connection) for hours, creating elaborate fantasy worlds. I wanted to write the kind of books that I loved to read. The act of writing for me became something as natural and as necessary as anything I learned in school.
And yet, with the same overwhelming sense of loss that I felt at the disappointment that was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my first attempts at writing plays felt like little more than cheap imitations of my two favorite things. By combining them, it seemed that I was taking something away from each activity and I never quite felt satisfied. The whole experience seemed limiting. In a novel if I wanted to include a talking dog or a magic wand then I simply had to write it down. But in a play I felt a constant need to simplify. I confined myself to what I could imagine creating on a stage, rather than just telling the story that was in my head. It was frustrating and disappointing and I quickly wrote playwriting off as one of those things I really should be able to do, but just couldn’t.
It really wasn’t until college that I let go of the expectations and limitations I’d placed on playwriting and embraced it for what it really was: a collaboration. In prose a writer is collaborating with a reader, but when I write plays I collaborate with the actors, the designers, the director, and only once all of those people have incorporated a piece of themselves into the work is the audience invited to take part.
The words on the page are only a blueprint of the play and the delightful part is that every person who contributes to the production brings her own imagination and talent so that the end product is something greater than I could have ever written down.
It took a while, but much like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, once I acquired a taste for playwriting I never looked back.